George Zimmerman Trial: Jury selection begins

3:21 PM, Jun 10, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: George Zimmerman Trial: Jury selection
George Zimmerman, left, appeared in court Thursday for a pre-trial hearing ahead of his second-degree murder trial, which launches with jury selection June 10. He stands accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin. / AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank, Pool

 

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  • SANFORD, Florida (USA TODAY) -- Jury selection in the Trayvon Martin murder case got off to a prompt start Monday, with Circuit Judge Debra Nelson quickly hearing, then rejecting, a request from defense lawyer Mark O'Mara todelay the trial.

    "We're not fully ready and we need more time," O'Mara told the judge.

    Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda objected and said lawyers defending George Zimmerman had "plenty of time" to prepare.

    Nelson agreed and denied the motion. The judge however, did rule that a defense motion to prohibit prosecutors from using inflammatory words such as "profiled," "vigilante," "wannabe cop," and "self-appointed neighborhood watch captain" would be partially granted in reference to potential jurors. Lawyers will not be allowed to use those words when questioning potential jurors.

    Supporters of Zimmerman and Martin have waged emotionally charged arguments about the deadly encounter here Feb. 26, 2012. The Internet has buzzed with debates about whether Zimmerman was defending himself against an aggressive teen who had begun pummeling him -- or whether he had profiled and murdered a black, unarmed 17-year-old.

    Now, judgment day is fast approaching.

    Shawn Vincent, a spokesman for Zimmerman's attorneys, said selection of the six-person jury could last one to three weeks and the trial three to four weeks.

    On Monday, Zimmerman and the lawyers in the case were introduced to potential jurors. Zimmerman's brother, Robert, said he was pleased that the people who will decide his brother's fate had a face-to-face meeting -- with no media present.

    "I think it's important that they meet George and not just the images on the screen," he said, adding that his brother had become a "mythological monster."

    Robert Zimmerman said his family is confident that George Zimmerman would he acquitted and that state attorneys would not be able to meet their burden.

    George Zimmerman's wife, Shellie Zimmerman, and Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, also attended the proceedings.

    "We are relieved that the start of the trial is here with the jury selection as we seek justice for our son Trayvon," Tracy Martin said. "We also seek a fair and impartial trial. We ask that the community continue to stay peaceful as we place our faith in the justice system. We ask that the community do the same."

    Outside the courthouse, about a dozen people -- mostly in support of Trayvon Martin and his family -- held signs that read: "We are all Trayvon! The whole damn system is guilty!" and "We say no more!"

    Noche Diaz, 24, came to Sanford from Harlem, N.Y. for the first day of trial. "When Trayvon Martin was killed they let George Zimmerman walk free until thousands of people stepped out," Diaz said. "We need to be part of the process."

    He said acquitting Zimmerman would send a message that vigilantes can kill young men of color and get away with it.

    Inside, it wasn't all media people jamming the courtroom. Four seats are reserved for Sanford Pastors Connecting, a coalition of Seminole County pastors who will take turns using the seats and will be talking to their congregations about the proceedings.

    Twenty-four lucky lottery winners are being assigned public seats each day. John McClanahan, of Sanford, was one of them Monday.

    "I parked right next to Mark O'Mara and went 'Whoa!,'" McClanahan said. "I probably have a voyeur interest. I want to see the people who have been on TV."

    McClanahan added that he hasn't made a decision about the actual case and thinks there will be evidence revealed during the trial that hasn't been made public that could have a large impact.

    Another lottery winner, Pat Baras, 61, has strong feelings about the case. "The life of a young man, without any justification, was taken by someone who was not a member of law enforcement and who blatantly disregarded what he was told to do," she said.

    Zimmerman, who has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge, is claiming he shot Martin in self-defense. He remains free on a $1 million bond.

    Prosecutors plan to argue that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, profiled Martin, wrongly assumed he was a criminal, disregarded a police dispatcher's instructions not to follow the teen, confronted the young man, and killed him.

    "Both sides are going to have to be careful in juror selection because the race issues in this case are highly charged," said Randy Reep, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor in Jacksonville, Fla. "If I was the prosecutor in this case, I would be desiring to have black people or other minorities who have had bad experiences based solely on their 'profileable' characteristics."

    Those people, Reep said, are more likely to relate and side with Martin. He added that's a departure from common scenarios because usually defense attorneys want black jurors who they believe are more likely to be distrustful of law enforcement officials.

    In this case, defense attorneys will be looking for people who don't believe police enforce rules enough, Reep said.

    "The most important thing will be picking a jury that will follow the law, will look at the facts in a fair manner, and that is going to not be sidetracked by the other issues," said Elizabeth Parker, a former prosecutor who is now is now a criminal defense attorney in Palm Beach, Florida. "What is important is what happened that night."

    Nelson, who has already ruled that the 500 potential jurors' identities will remain anonymous, will likely ask those summoned what they know about the case, Parker said. Nelson may later sequester the jurors selected to hear the case.

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